In the Guardian, actors Rory Kinnear and Anthony Sher discussed their different approaches to playing Iago.
Kinnear commented: “Nick Hytner’s first instinct was always to steer away from racism and examine that jealousy” while Sher decided from the outset: “We definitely wanted him to be racist.”
What is immediately apparent is that the depth of research and rehearsal that each actor undertook led to nuanced and rich performances that differed hugely.
Kinnear said: “With a lot of Shakespeare’s characters, something seismic has happened to them just before we meet them. Hamlet has lost his father. Angelo jilts Mariana in Measure for Measure. Iago suspects that Othello has slept with his wife. As an actor, you have to know who that character was beforehand in order to understand how they’ve changed.”
From both actors’ accounts, the analysis and quarrying of the play to understand Iago’s mental make-up appears to be extensive; there is a constant questioning and determination to drill deep into the character’s psyche.
Sher said: “Words such as “evil” and “villain”, they don’t mean much to me as an actor. They seem to hark back to a time when we knew nothing about psychology, and I’m far more interested in thinking about those people as damaged in some way that leads to their actions.”
Professional actors and drama school candidates attend Audition Doctor sessions because the environment that Tilly provides allows for a forensic exploration of character. It’s a rare situation where you are not spoon fed any “answer”, but are encouraged to organically find your own way into the character.
Lupita Nyong’o once said of her experience of working on 12 Years A Slave: “Every single role brings with it an ignorance and an insecurity, and so you have to approach it with the same curiosity and humility. I’m always nervous. Doesn’t matter how many times I do this. But I remind myself it’s because I care. Steve [McQueen] would say, ‘Fail and then fail better!’ And that environment was so liberating. It’s not about getting it right. It’s about getting it truthful.”
This is the similar ethos employed at Audition Doctor. Students who come to Tilly’s sessions often land jobs or places at drama schools not because their performances in front of audition panels are so polished and “finished”, but because there is always an honesty, rawness and daring in their acting that is unavoidably watchable.
Kinnear said: “You have to implicate the audience. They’ve got to squirm, not just over what happens [in Othello], but because they did nothing about it. They had all the knowledge – this guy was not to be trusted – and they just sat there.”
Students who have trained at Audition Doctor understand this. Sessions push them to reach these stakes and bring a grit and fearlessness to their work.